€25m to be spent on new public services ID cards for over-16s

 

THE GOVERNMENT is to spend almost €25 million on a new public services identity card which will be distributed to about three million people over the age of 16 from next year.

The card will contain the holder’s name, photograph, signature and public service number, which is used to access welfare benefits and other State services. In addition, personal details such as a person’s date of birth, former surnames and the mother’s surname are likely to be electronically encoded on the card.

The details have prompted concerns from civil liberties groups that the information requested could form the basis for a controversial national identity card.

Officials have rejected this and say it will help cut out form-filling and red tape when dealing with government departments and help tackle social welfare fraud more effectively.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin has confirmed that an initial figure of €7 million has been allocated next year to begin the card’s roll-out. It is intended to issue the first cards in the second half of 2010.

She said the final costs would not be established until the procurement process for production of the card was completed, but it was estimated the cost of the contract would be about €24 million.

After a public procurement exercise, a preferred bidder for production of the card was identified and negotiations with the bidder were nearing completion, Ms Hanafin’s spokeswoman added.

Issuing a card will entail a new registration process involving collection of a photograph and signature.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties says safeguards are essential in the piloting of any new card. Given the State’s “piecemeal privacy and data protection laws”, it warns that it is vital there are safeguards over who has access to this information, and how it will be used.

The information that can be stored on the card is prescribed in law under the Social Welfare and Pensions Act (2007). The legislation provides that the person’s name, personal public service number, photograph, signature and the card’s issue number and expiry date may be inscribed on it. Any other information that may be deemed necessary may be either inscribed or electronically encoded on the card.

Identity fraud has become increasingly common in recent years, mainly because of improved technology for replicating identity cards.

Officials hope the cards will help the Government in meeting its target of saving about €533 million in social welfare fraud next year.

This follows two consecutive years where the Department of Social and Family Affairs has made significantly less in fraud savings than it had anticipated.

Measures to crack down on social welfare fraud yielded about €100 million less than expected during 2009. The department had estimated it would save €616 million by the end of this year. Latest figures indicate it would save just over €500 million.

Use of cards for access to public services has been increasing in recent years.

There are more than five million cards in circulation at present, including the social services card, drugs repayment scheme card, medical card, Garda age card, EU health card and free travel pass.

The aim of the public service card is to replace these cards and to act as a key for a range of such services, as well as identifying and authenticating individuals where required.